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5 Questions: Nashville Predators

Pekka Rinne's performance, P.K. Subban's flash could key division title

by Robby Stanley / NHL.com Correspondent

An NHL season is filled with twists and turns for each of the League's 30 teams. Here are five of the major questions that could define the 2016-17 season for the Nashville Predators:

 

Was last season subpar for Pekka Rinne, or a regression?

Rinne, 33, had a down season by his standards, finishing with a 2.48 goals-against average and .908 save percentage. The Predators don't need Rinne to be the goaltender he was five years ago, but they do need him to perform better than he did last season if they want to make it past the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time.

 

Can P.K. Subban push the Predators to the top?

Subban's style of play certainly seems to mesh with the way the Predators want to play under coach Peter Laviolette. Subban is a mobile defenseman who can join the rush. Speed is a huge factor in today's NHL, and that's a big part of why the Predators made the decision to trade Shea Weber to get Subban in the first place. The addition of Subban figures to give the Predators arguably the most dynamic defense in the League; they hope it will be enough to make them Stanley Cup contenders.

 

Will the group of young bottom-six forwards pay off?

The Predators chose to make their bottom-six forwards younger and faster when they opted not to re-sign center Paul Gaustad, 34, and bought out Eric Nystrom, 33. Young forwards Colton Sissons, 22; Viktor Arvidsson, 23; Calle Jarnkrok, 25; Austin Watson, 24; and Miikka Salomaki, 23, may give the Predators more offensive upside in their bottom six than they've had in quite some time, but will they be as effective defensively and on the penalty kill as the group has been in recent seasons?

Video: NSH@DAL: Jarnkrok shoots off the rebound for PPG

 

Can Ryan Johansen be a top center?

Johansen was in a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets on Jan. 6 and immediately became Nashville's No. 1 center. He finished with 34 points (eight goals, 26 assists) in 42 games with the Predators, but Nashville feels he can reach a higher level. General manager David Poile challenged Johansen, 24, to get in top shape coming into training camp, and the Predators believe he could be on the verge of his most productive season (his NHL career highs were 33 goals in 2013-14 and 71 points in 2014-15 with Columbus). If Johansen is able to produce like a top-flight center, something the Predators have never really had , they could win the Central Division for the first time.

Video: SJS@NSH, Gm6: Johansen beats Jones after great move

 

Can a productive second-line center be found?

Mike Fisher and Mike Ribeiro each has been a productive player throughout long NHL careers, but can each continue to be productive at 36 years old? Fisher and Ribeiro likely will be Nashville's options for second-line center to start the season, but there may have to be a contingency plan if the production doesn't follow. Vladislav Kamenev, a 20-year-old taken in the second round (No. 42) of the 2014 NHL Draft, appears to have top-six potential. But if he's not ready, the Predators may be forced to be active around the NHL Trade Deadline.

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